“Hello, bong!” I say to Yinn, one of the Khmer workers at my friend’s bar. It comes out in a breathless whisper as I jog past him. His skin wrinkles like the folds of a crumbled newspaper as he smiles back, cheek to cheek.
The loose strands of hair on my head dance in the breeze as I turn my head to wave to my friend. He’s buying breakfast at Tony’s, a local Khmer shop that we all frequent.
My friend’s DJ setlist, which he plays at the weekly jungle rave I promote for, is on repeat for the duration of my run. It’s a tune that I’ve come to associate Otres Beach with. In the years to come, every time this song plays, I’ll be swept away from the world and to this period of time in my life.
I know everyone that walks the streets of Otres Village. We’re all a family here. We’re all expats who happened to stumble upon this village full of dirt roads, local Khmer shops, and shoeless, shirtless backpackers.
The repetitive routine I’ve gotten myself into for a few months while I pause my adventure has allowed me to relax and recharge. Constantly moving around and backpacking is tiring. If you’ve been following my adventures, you’ll quickly realize how slowly I backpack. I’ve gotten stuck in Pai, I’ve gotten stuck in Chiang Mai, and now, I’m currently stuck in Otres Beach.
Well, more like cemented into the ground. I’ve been here for almost three months and plan on staying until mid-May to finish off the season.
There are a ton of other expats living in Otres Village and Sihanoukville. Plenty of backpackers pick up work-away jobs and live in hostels and guesthouses and get free food and alcohol in exchange for working at the bar or the restaurant.
Constantly moving around from city to city and country to country is tough. There is a constant flow of new faces, new names, and new cultures. It’s almost impossible to absorb all of this new information in a way that you may want to, or in a way that’s going to permanently change you.
I arrived in Otres Village in January and knew I was going to be here for at least a month. A month turned into two, two turned into three, and at three months I found myself sending in my passport for yet another Cambodian visa. The more stability I found, the harder it was to leave.
I’ve established myself in this wonderful, beautiful town. I’ve made friends here that I know for a fact are ones I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I’ve spent more time with the same people than I ever have with friends from home and learned about so many different countries and cites through these people.
I’m myself here.
I love walking to the beach and saying hi to at least five familiar faces every single time.
I love all of the different accents I hear on a daily basis from friends I can call my family.
I love my Kerfuffle crew, my Serendipity crew, my Hacienda crew.
I love Wednesday nights at Kerfuffle and I love Saturday nights at Otres Market.
I love going to an island and knowing people that live and work there.
I felt this way when I was living in Pai and when I was living in Chiang Mai. Cities have so much to offer, and the only way to truly get to know a city is to live in them for an extended period of time.
There are so many unique things I’ve discovered about Otres that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I hadn’t lived here. I’ve discovered delicious food stalls. I’ve discovered where the best burgers, the best pizza, the best spring rolls, and the best curries are. I’ve attended a Khmer wedding. I’ve become a regular at a Khmer restaurant. I’ve found where you can buy the cheapest beer and the tastiest coconuts. I’ve attended boating trips, exercise events, and battle of the band nights.
All of these little things about a town are something one would never discover if they were just passing through.
Some people prefer to travel through countries and cities quickly. I’m not saying you shouldn’t travel like this: everyone is different. Some people love the constant change and new experiences they get when they travel quickly. You get to see new cultures, meet so many different people, and experience a lot more places in a shorter amount of time than someone who travels slowly. And some people may not have the time or resources to travel slowly. If that’s how you want to travel, then do it.
All I’m saying is that’s not how I want to travel. I want to get to know the local people, work for a local business, and truly get to know how a place operates. If I fall in love with a city, there is no way I’m going to want to leave anytime soon.
Which is why I have fallen for Otres.
Getting stuck in one place is a lot easier when you don’t have a return date. However, it is still possible if you only have a few months or weeks on your trip: but you have to be willing to give up seeing more than one or two places.
It may seem like it’s not worth it, but what you gain from living in one place for an extended period of time is a lot more than what you gain from passing through a country without truly learning and absorbing their culture.
I’m about to embark on another journey in a little less than one month’s time to a brand new country (which I will reveal in my newsletter– make sure you sign up!). I’m going to get a three month visa so I can take my time exploring the country and really learning about the culture.
And knowing myself, I’m going to get stuck somewhere there, too.